If you came to Wesleyan because of some vague, or obvious, interest in environmentalism, then you’re in luck! If you find the right people, organizations, classes, etc. then you’ll have a great support system for keeping green on campus. If you thought it was impressive that the admissions building has solar panels on top of it (mostly a ploy to get environmentalist students to apply), then you’ll have a great time getting involved with sustainability efforts at Wes.
First of all, Wesleyan has a sustainability coordinator, whose role is to help further Wesleyan’s mission of sustainability, including making things clearer to you. Her name is Jen Kleindienst and you can send her an email at jkleindienst(at)wes. For any and all questions regarding sustainability, you should also check out Wesleyan’s sustainability website. (I’ll be going through the most important details, but I can’t link to everything.)
Every fall at the beginning of the year, the sustainability interns put on the Waste Not! tag sale (which is also fun to volunteer with!). At the end of the spring, they collect copious amounts of unwanted stuff (usually fun stuff), from couches to sweaters to kitchenware to lots of random decorations, and store them so that you can buy them for ridiculously low prices your first weekend on campus. This year, the sale will be on September 3 and September 4. A percentage of the proceeds are donated to a local charity while the rest go to support on-campus sustainability initiatives and the continuity of the program in future years.
During the regular school year, you can also use Wesleyan’s Freecycle listserv, which allows students, faculty, and staff to give away stuff they don’t want anymore and get some cool free shit. You can get info on how to sign up (and brace yourself for ten daily emails) here.
This past April, the Sustainability Office released its first Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which outlines all the initiatives the university has taken and plans to take in the next five years in order to reduce waste, conserve energy, and make Wesleyan more environmentally responsible. It’s a 58-page document, covering topics ranging from academic curriculum to transportation, but the most important aspect is that Wesleyan wants “to create a culture of sustainability within the campus community.” You can read it here.
One of the most confusing and less publicized changes to keeping green at Wesleyan has been our recycling system. All central campus recycling (including all dorms) is single-stream, meaning that all paper, hard plastic, glass and aluminum can mix, mingle, and merge together in the recycling bins. Please make sure all recyclables are clean and not to put anything “contaminated” (such as greasy pizza boxes or crusty yogurt containers) in the recycling bins.
“Non-traditional recyclables” include light bulbs, printer cartridges, batteries, packaging materials, aerosol paint cans, cardboard, and a bunch of other things. These large neon green recycling containers into which you can shove those string lights that broke while you were traveling are located in the north entrance of Usdan (facing the CFA) and in the Exley lobby (near Pi). They look like this:
This handy dandy worksheet sums it all up for you if you’re not sure whether you can recycle something, and the sustainability website can also tell you exactly where to recycle your non-traditionals.
Energy conservation is the obvious way to reduce our environmental impact as a community. The mundane: turn off the lights when you leave the room—make it a habit and you won’t even have to think about it. You can make sure to avoid phantom electricity by unplugging items you don’t use daily, such as your printer or your TV. It’s warm now, but once the New England autumn and winter kick in, try not to keep your windows open. If you’re unable to lower the heating in your room, call Physical Plant at (860) 685-3400.
Each year, there are a couple of energy competitions—one for dorms and one for senior woodframe houses. The dorm energy competition relies on the information displayed on the dorm energy monitors that are up in the common areas of the dorms. There’s always a fun prize for the winning dorms (like a pizza or ice cream party). Encourage your dorm friends to reduce their energy consumption, especially in communal areas, such as the bathrooms (whether you want to keep it mellow/yellow to reduce water usage is up to you). The wood frame energy competition, also know as Do It In the Dark, relies on monthly electricity bills and carries a cash money prize. On top of saving energy, President Michael Roth has pledged that all residential energy savings will go directly back to financial aid!
Now, moving on to the waste that we all directly produce. Wesleyan has been a bottled-water free campus since 2011, meaning that all on-campus stores and vending machines no longer serve bottled water. To fulfill your H2O needs, consider purchasing reusable water bottles (like a nalgene or just a jar or whatever) and filling it up at the various water fountains on campus. Middletown water is very safe, but if you’re skeptical you can fill it up at the Usdan filling stations, which are filtered. If you’re going to WesWings, bring something to drink out of to avoid paying the cup charge. ‘Swings and Red and Black Café have a mug club program, which gets you a snazzy portable mug and free coffee for just forty points or something. If you bring something to drink out of at Pi Café you can get a discount on your coffee, and a reusable mug will also get you free coffee at Espwesso, Wesleyan’s student-wun wate night café.
Wes also has an extensive composting program that minimizes the campus’s excess food waste in student residences, Usdan, and some campus offices. While you’re in a first-year dorm, you’ll likely have to put all your eggshells, coffee grounds/filters, and fruit/veggie bits into a jar or something and use one of the 14 compost collection bins that are around campus. By the time you’re in a program house or apartment-style dorm, you’ll likely have a communal blue compost bucket
actually inside much closer to your place of residence. If you have questions or want your own compost bucket, email ecofacilitators(at)wes or wesleyancompost(at)gmail(dot)com to get some answers.
Additionally, groups like Bread Salvage and the Food Rescue Program work to divert food waste, taking foods that would usually be wasted from Pi, our dining halls, and areas in Middletown to schools and homeless shelters in the area. Click here if you’re interested in any of the university’s housing and hunger programs.
If you want to get directly involved in sustainability initiatives on campus, there are many student groups you can get involved with. If soil gets you going (not just pregnant ladies are into that), then you should walk or bike down to Long Lane Farm, Wes’s student-run farm. You could also join forces with the wild kids over at WILD Wes (Working for Intelligent Landscape Design @ Wesleyan), who are currently using sustainable permaculture techniques to continue planting on the original WestCo site and move on to other sites on campus (like the Butts courtyard). Wes also has a great food policy group called WesFRESH, which advocates for sustainable food choices and policy both on and off campus, including an assessment of our food provider Bon Appétit’s food purchases.
The Environmental Organizers Network (EON) partners with a bunch of sustainability groups on campus. Right now they’re working on something called Wild Walls, which brought the Green Wall movement to Wesleyan last year. EON also publishes Loam, an environmental arts magazine, and organizes several thrift swaps and gardening workshops throughout the semester. You could also become an Eco Facilitator and help new froshies like yourself navigate the world of energy conservation, composting, and recycling.
There are also program houses directly related to environment activism/liking the environment in general. They are Outhouse (basically leads Wes’s outing club), Farm House (heavily involved with Long Lane and food sustainability), and Earth House (misc earth love student group ppl). They’re all great spaces, and if you’re interested in them by the end of your first year you can apply to live in one of them!
Students and student environmental organization are amazing, especially at Wesleyan. That being said, there is also a group with a much broader range in membership. SAGES (the Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship) consists of representatives from staff, faculty, administrators, Middletown organizations, and students. They tackle topics such as recycling, procurement, and food. To find out more about SAGES, check out the website or email the Director of Environmental Health, Safety & Sustainability Bill Nelligan at wnelligan(at)wes.
Lastly, you can pursue your environmental interest in academics. Relatively new to the Wesleyan academic scene is the College of the Environment, through which you can major or get a certificate in Environmental Studies. Make sure to check out the website and email the administrative assistant Valerie Marinelli (vmarinelli(at)wes) if you have any questions about the major.
Read more of this year’s Unofficial Orientation Series here.